Blesok no. 39, November-December, 2004
Gallery Reviews


Homo homini... canis est?
(on Lars von Trier’s movie DOGVILLE, 2003)

Petar Volnarovski


1. Thought. Intention

    Sometimes – neither too often, nor too rare – some work of art, in its attempt to play on the most subtle threads of the essence of the human existence, will weave its melody of human existence, and this melody will raise a song on the ultimate Truths.. And again – only sometimes, that song will manage to penetrate deep enough in those to whom it has been intended, in those depths of human soul where only those “truths with a big T” have the access… Truths that go beyond all ephemeredes and deceits that man – as a being torn in the middle of his attempts to give meaning to his living here and now in this reality – builds inside and around him: sometimes to protect himself, and sometimes to spare himself from the “cruel” reality in the middle of which he lives. Thus, in a shorter or longer time, anyway – he manages to encircle and barricade himself, his feelings and his essence with such a wall of deceits, half-truths and lies that only seemingly ease his existence in this reality… reality in which we have not been given a priori to know the truths and beauties, but we have to look and find them…
    This search is not easy at all for those who had gone far (and we all managed to go far) in building their castles of feelings and thoughts around the most vulnerable and most fragile place inside us: our soul… Closed like that in the false cradles of peace, we judge ourselves – not to be the fire of the beauty of the existence, but just warm ashes of the memory of that fire that was lit inside us with our birth here… Basically, it eats us from inside, and not from the outside! And – often late, though, not to forget, never too late – we realize that what hurts us and scares us does not come from outside, but from the inside, and that all towers and castles that we have build were not only built from the wrong side, but they were built completely needlessly! And then, only then, our search for those “Truths with a big T” starts… And for this search to be really meaningful, one needs to ask the real questions…

    And therefore, let us go back to those works of art that we have mentioned in the beginning of this long introduction to such a work, a film this time – the movie Dogville of Lars von Trier – and to mark that is these works that know how to ask, and sometimes only indicate (which is basically the same) the real questions whose answers are those that weave the strings of the song of “Truths with a big T”, and which make the search meaningful… But, there is another thing – we do not need only to ask ourselves the real questions: it is necessary to really want them to be answered; so, it is necessary to ask ourselves with the real wish and intention for them to be answered… and then, only then will we be able to hear the song of the “Truths with a big T” and to experience ourselves in our essence, in the true, beautiful and divine essence of what we really are… Though, to reach this wonderful essence, we should pass through the hell of the hard and hot walls of misconceptions and lies with whose help we have lifted the towers and walls around our souls, and it is not pleasant to experience at al. But, those who have once started to ask themselves with the real intention to reach the real goal do not stop asking themselves and indicate these questions, because they have already smelled the “Truths with a big T” that are behind them…
    The author of the movie Dogville, Lars von Trier, is one of those who have already gone far along the trace, or far in their search for these truths. And, as he had done it so well and true in his previous movies, he did it with this movie as well – no doubt, at least as strong as previously! The intention to discover the real questions and indicate or at least show the real answers is strong, determinate, and first of all uncompromising with this author. As it should be with everybody. Always.
    This author always knew and managed to do it in his own, individual, special and always different, other way, always unusual till extremes, with a deep and intentional unusualness of the expression, so that via this unusualness, twist – as our deceits and fears from which our towers and walls are built are – to take us to the questions and answers in the only possible way: via an earthquake! Via a spiritual and emotional earthquake, via twisting all of what we thought normal and everyday, and make us, with this “shaking” to “shake out” what we have shoved so deep inside us, in our towers and walls, for – protection?! This author too knows that the higher and stronger they are, the stronger the shake should be… it is the only way to do it…



2. Way. Narration

    In this movie, Trier surprises us again: with the unusual set, with the stage setting which looks like a theatre play with a partial staging, with the fragmenting of the movie story into stuck acts, then with the unusual authorial story-teller in “off”, and with the general hybridization of the movie genre, etc. And, with the simultaneous travestying of all acts, on one hand, and on the other hand, not missing to give a verbal and imagery text with such a depth and superiority of detail, nuance and subtlety of noticing and pointing on meaning, he manages to reach the wanted, that is, necessary effect if the search for the truth to start – from the beginning the viewer is confused, irritated and disorientated by what he sees on the screen: and he wonders what it is, it does not really look like a movie, neither like theatre play, what is wrong with the author, he must have “gone astray” in his desire to be different and with a new artistic expression, and here, he has crossed all borders.. etc. – but very soon he is drawn in by the way of narration, or more precisely: by the narration itself, wondering and wondering again, and although there is no question mark noticed for a long time, still the viewer feels this question ,mark deep inside, and he simply can not “move away” from the screen? No. By the story. By the narration, the master and most beloved lover of our mind, by the irresistible drug of our mind existence, after the unusual, strange and “miraculous” that upsets and confuses the viewer from the beginning when it comes to the genre and medium, disappears all of a sudden, and only the travel through the story remains, free of frames and norms (those – towers and walls) of what we are used to “chew” and “chew again” every day… The viewer remains with the story of the beautiful and good Grace, with the secret that comes in the small, sleepy and drowsy in its everyday monotony of the non-asking town, and for the same, more or less wasted with building of towers and walls citizens of this town – not called by accident: Dogville (Town of Dogs)…

    Thus, in front of the eyes, ears and (secretly) soul of the viewer at first the morality, wellbeing and simplemindedness of the town citizens is revealed, their preparedness to help Grace remain outside the reach of her unknown pursuers, and even their ability to love a stranger such as Grace, and accept her as one of their own… But, then, slowly, but surely and inevitably, these virtues slowly start giving way to the force of what east up – since always and forever – from within, the closed and un-communicated with oneself inside, and the others outside – because of the walls rising high with everybody, and even Grace, and these virtues start wasting like mortar from an old wall, revealing the states and reasons because of which those walls were erected with them… the situation escalates with Grace’s need not only to stay but to pay back to the citizens – full with understanding, simply un-understandable and almost Christ-like understanding for their faults and falls, even when they start abusing it to such an extent that nobody else, nut Grace, seems would not understand it, or tolerate it. At one moment, this whole situation turns into a continuous torture and abuse of Grace by the citizens, with blackmail that they would hand her over to her pursuers unless she meets their bigger and bigger demands. But, her acceptance and tolerating of their abuse is even more unusual, and most of all her deep understanding of the frustrations and complexes, simplicity and ruthlessness, understanding that is identified with Christ-like tolerance and mercy, mercy worthy of her name, which has not been chosen by the author by accident… The situation escalates to such an extent and culminates with her wish to help?!?!) the citizens pointing out the roots of their faults and weaknesses, which she had seen so well and understood in their essence: she, indeed, stands before her Golgotha, managing to peek behind their walls and towers, and see their sorrows and inner dissatisfactions that make them act towards her in such way. But, everything culminates when she does it publicly, at a gathering, telling everybody what bothers them, in front of everybody else… It is then, when the citizens, stripped before themselves and the others, open and without walls, are terrified, with themselves and the others and hand her over to her pursuers immediately… and they show at Dogville, at the city of dogs with but one dog, and many hounds…



    But Trier does not stop here, only at showing and revealing the dark secrets of Dogville. He, of course, continues, his intention goes even deeper – Grace should also be revealed behind her walls… This is done by her father the mobster, the pursuer, that she runs from, horrified with his way of life and everything that he represents: in only one discussion between him and her, Grace is revealed and shattered in her top vanity of superiority above the simplicity of the Dogville citizens, in her belief that she is so much above all, in her vanity that she is absolutely sinless and perfect in her deep understanding and knowledge of human soul and essence… In this conversation, her father – in a simple way, asks her (paraphrase): “Who are you to put yourself so high above them… they, and I at least know that we are sinful, and we do not judge or forgive the others who sin… Who are you to judge and forgive? Isn’t it a supreme vanity, so much bigger than any other?… at that moment, the main twist of the story happens: By facing her father, Grace also peeks behind her walls and towers and she finds her sorrow and rage, and releases it so cathartically, that the viewer only wishes and she orders the killers in her father’s service to kill all the citizens of the town, and burn it. The catharsis starts. But Trier would not be Trier if he forgets his intention on behalf of the force of the catharsis and sticks only to the bliss of the raw release and short lived pleasure that it brings; no, he does not forget that he has started in pursuit of questions and answers, and only with one shot in the middle of massive killings and burning at the end of the movie, he manages – only with an extremely short shot of the murder of the baby of one of the torturers of Grace (the only shot where the murder has been explicitly shown) to cut down the cathartic enjoyment of the viewer in the middle of Grace’s revenge over the citizens of Dogville, and give his point with the implicit, but omnipresent question: what is justice here? Where is the Truth? With Grace? With her father? With the simple, uneducated and frustrated citizens of Dogville? Somewhere third? Nowhere? Or somewhere… behind all of it?

    With a superior, truthful, Gnostic manner of narration, story telling of a high type, Trier brings the viewer to these feelings, and the viewer can not, even if he wants to avoid them; bewitched by the depth and the seducing charm of the queen narration, who leaves behind and rejects all limitations of the medium and genre, and proves herself as the only sovereign in pursuit of the “Truth with a big T”, the viewer, as we all, can not by ask himself what we are, what kind of beings, what Truth is for us, what makes us behave and be as we are; what is inside us making us behave like dogs to ourselves and to the others, and at the same time we know very well what and how good we wish for ourselves and often for the others… And so on, and so on… And still we behave as we do, scared with ourselves and the existence, and we eat each other, we walk on each other, we hurt ourselves and the others… And sometimes we are Grace, sometimes the citizens of Dogville, and sometimes the mobster father, etc… And now, how can we not say: man is a dog to other men?
    After watching this movie, how can we not feel that it is not so? Unfortunately, this is what we still live, and we will live it, until we ask ourselves the real question, and until we answer it…
    Lars von Trier gives us the real questions and real directions to the answers… because he in his so different, and yet direct way, tells us and shows us that there are no answers with any of the characters in his work – although every character has some his answers… But, none of them has the real ones…


3. Questions. Answers

    And now, everything further is left to us by Trier… After he shook us well with the essential human concepts of thought and soul on what is right and what is not, an dafter he led us through all that we know is human and we experience it as so foreign, we are left with asking ourselves, but this time with the real intention and to answer ourselves in the real, direct way – and with a real feeling and wish that it is answered from within…
    Then, but only then – we will hear the answers that will be the song of the divine liras, and we will be answered how the man is NOT a dog to another man, and how can be to each other what we have been created to be…
    …
    And we are created to be each others’ love, beauty, light, and first of all – “Truth with a big T”…


Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska




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